A major area of robot research and development comes under the category of biomimetics, or biomimicry, which looks to nature for inspiration. Some robots resemble different kinds of animals. For example, Boston Dynamics' Cheetah has broken legged-robot speed records at 18mph. (It can't match a real cheetah's 70mph.) The company is well known for its pioneering development of robots that use motions based on animals to run and maneuver, such as the BigDog.
Many robots modeled after animals are developed for military and first-responder applications. They can be based on insects, like the University of California, Berkeley's OctoROACH; worms, like MIT's Inchworm; and even jellyfish, like Virginia Tech's Robojelly. Many have similar applications, and some have similar funding sources. They are designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and the ability to go where humans can't -- sometimes in tiny spaces, sometimes in dangerous territory, and sometimes in rugged or unusual terrain.
Click on the photo below to see a slideshow of 10 of these creepy-crawly robots.
The Multi-Appendage Robotic System (MARS) from Virginia Tech's Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory looks like a giant spider with six legs instead of eight. Fabricated out of carbon fiber and aluminum, the robot's legs are spaced axi-symmetrically around its body, which lets it walk omni-directionally. Each leg uses a proximal joint with two degrees of freedom and a distal joint with one degree of freedom for added strength and rigidity. The goal is to develop a walking gait system for negotiating terrain with variations in height. The system is based on simplified biological neuron networks, arranged in subnetworks and subsystems to support the operation of another neural network: a central pattern generator (CPG) that generates gait patterns based on feedback from all supporting systems. (Source: Virginia Polytechnic and State University)
William, I think the nature observation app you mention is a good one, even if you meant it as a joke. Although wild animals would definitely notice little machines moving around they would, hopefully, not be attracted to them since they don't smell like food. OTOH, cats large and small like to play with creeping and crawling things, so the smaller robots probably shouldn't be used where the local wildlife includes large cats.
Ann—fascinating article.I think it's a little scary what these things can do.I certainly understand the need to go where human health and safety would be compromised but I'm a little nervous relative to the more clandestine possibilities.Remember the movie "Minority Report" and the "bots" used to search for the hero (Tom Cruise)?He's lying there in the tub, under water, to avoid these pesky little devices that will certainly cause his capture and possible death.(OK so I'm paranoid!)The mechanical aspects represent just how far engineering has come and how successful y we have mastered emulating "moving things".I am also fascinated that programming can make these things do what is needed.
Thanks, Al. A couple of commenters mentioned the possibility that some of these may have been designed without a specific goal in mind. AFAIK from my research, every robot shown here was purposefully designed to do what it does. That holds for every robot I've written about in DN. In some cases, the goal was more mechanical, such as "we were trying to see how to make a robot climb stairs", or "we wanted to see what a three-legged robot could do." Most of the time, the goals seem to be more specific and targeted toward applications that would be helpful to the military, since that's where most of the funding comes from.
Ann, You've definitely found a very unique set of robotic applications. Just shows how creativity is possible with the availability of inexpensive control solutions, software and development kits that wouldn't have been available just a few years ago.
I agree, ervin0072002, applications for robots can usually be extended from military uses to law enforcement and first responder apps. These are a good example, since, like the smaller versions of my Military Robots slideshow, they can go into small and/or dangerous spaces where people can't.
This is quite an interesting slideshow, informative and entertaining as well. These creatures should certainly add to the lifetime expectancy of military scouts, which is very good. In addition, just the presence of these little creatures should serve to un-nerve some of our enemies, in addition to providing excellent surveillance, and one other option that would work with even the smallest ones is to carry an IR designator to illuminate targets that are out of humans sight. I bet nobody even thought of that concept before. That could certainly give the little fly a big sting.
One other thought, which is that surveillance is not only for law enforcement and the military, it is also used by a lot of commercial security organizations. And besides that, surveillance equipment can provide lots of entertainment, watching animals in the wild without them having any clue that we are looking at them. At last we can see for ourselves: "does a bear ---- in the woods?"
I agree Ervin0072002. It would be good to see a clear and energized path from military technology to civilian law enforcement and rescue organizations. The technology developed by the military would make police and fire operations safer and more effective -- a good civilian benefit for military investment.
gsmith, most of the military apps for these appear to be reconnaissance/surveillance, due to their ability to go where people can't, which also means crossover into first responder apps. To answer your question, I didn't see any audio capabilities mentioned for any of the robots in this slideshow. Of course, that doesn't mean that, in a given case, such capabilities aren't being considered.
Keep in mind that all military applications have Law enforcement applications as well. As economy takes a downturn crime takes an upturn. So law enforcement is put in some strange situations day in day out.
Biomimicry has already found its way into the development of robots and new materials, with researchers studying animals and nature to come up with new innovations. Now thanks to researchers in Boston, biomimicry could even inform the future of electrical networks for next-generation displays.
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